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  Columnist: Stephen Treehorn

Image credit: NASA/ESA/ESO

The answer to everything ?


Posted on Monday, 20 December, 2010 | 8 comments
Columnist: Stephen Treehorn


Famously, in ‘The Hitchhikers guide to the galaxy, ‘Deep Thought’ the computer specifically built to reveal the ultimate answer to the ultimate question of life, the Universe, and everything, concluded it was 42. Unfortunately, the ultimate question was unknown. The lengthy process was therefore rendered obsolete and omniscience eluded the fictional characters.

Today on Earth there are many individuals, organisations and governments involved in similar pursuits and with each new day further information describing the vastness and complexity of our Universe is released. Astronomers search the sky for clues as to how we came to be and whether we are alone, whilst quantum scientists construct fantastical machinery which produce stupendous amounts of data as they try to decipher why we are not as inconsequential as light.

From all the information gleaned within laboratories and research establishments comes occasionally a declaration that a unifying theory is close, and that we will on some level receive the answer to everything. And to give you some idea of the enormity of such a challenge it is useful to consider stars and neutrinos.

Firstly stars. Professor Van Dokkum, of the prestigious Yale University in the US, used one of the world’s largest telescopes at the Keck Observatory in Hawaii to ‘peer’ far past our own Milky Way into eight egg-shaped elliptical galaxies. He picked out the particular pattern of light emitted by red dwarfs and the ‘signature’ was much stronger than expected. The evidence obtained suggests that the number of stars in the Universe might be triple current estimates. This would potentially take the total for the Universe to 3,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000, or put another way more than the total number of grains of sand on all the Earth's beaches and deserts.

And then there are neutrinos. Neutrino, meaning "small neutral one", is an elementary particle that usually travels close to the speed of light, is electrically neutral, and is able to pass through ordinary matter almost undisturbed. These things are unimaginably tiny and can pass through one light year of lead without touching one single lead atom, that's six trillion miles of lead. There are also plenty of them and 150 billion of these minuscule particles on arriving on Earth pass through your thumb nail every second.

So collectively these eminent scholars describe space and time using models of such complexity that the average human is left in a state of puzzlement. And the intention behind these studies is to gain a deeper understanding of the Universe we live in and possibility a unifying theory of everything. Williams Blake famously wrote:

To see a world in a grain of sand
And heaven in a wild flower
Hold infinity in the palm of your hand
And eternity in an hour.

Blake has been described as a visionary mystic, and his use of words and concepts has illuminated the notion that the limited constructs of modern thinking could be challenged. For example, if I was to ask you where Africa was on a world map you would point at that large chunk of land halfway between South America and Australia. But if you actually placed your finger on Africa you would in fact be pointing out, say Uganda or Zambia. Africa is a collection of all these countries which we impute the name Africa upon. The same can be said for cars, bodies, neutrinos and even our Universe. They are all mere imputation upon a collection of parts which by themselves are not the whole.

We can understand this on a micro scale. Take for example an atom which is by all accounts 99% empty space. If we were to locate a neutron then could we not divide it into two? And what would be inside? CERN is attempting to locate the Higgs boson, or God particle as has been dubbed. But will that be it; will it be the smallest thing? Could there not be a universe contained inside?

And then we have the macro. If we were able to develop a spaceship capable of reaching the outer limit of our Universe would that be it? Certainly several of the world's leading cosmologists, Michio Kaku a prime example, believe that we are but one of many universes. Some versions of this theory suggest that there is at least one other universe very close to our own, separated perhaps by a membrane as little as a millimetre away. And this could explain dark energy as an enigmatic force leaking from a parallel universe and influencing us through its gravitational pull.

And then we have frequencies. The electromagnetic spectrum is currently estimated to be only 0.005% of that which exists in the Universe, and we humans can see but a fraction of that. We only see visible light which accounts for a small frequency band within a Universe consisting of multiple dimensions. We are, in a nutshell, virtually blind.

When you weight up all this information you may feel pretty insignificant, and in one sense you are. However scientists tell us we are one, that all matter was roughly the size of a pea prior to the Big Bang. Ever since that monumental episode in evolution it has expanded to where we are now but energetically we are still connected; we are not peas from the same pod, but the same pea.

But before you get comfortable with that thought consider the findings of renowned cosmologist Roger Penrose who has analysed cosmic microwaves filling the Universe and discovered they show echoes of previous Big Bang-like events. This would therefore suggest that there was a period of time before time came into existence, well at least our time. So when it is said God created the heavens and Earth through his infinite consciousness he was perhaps busy prior to that as well.

I would suggest it more probable than not that we are one of many, many universes. I am reluctant to use the word infinite as mathematicians have known for more than 100 years, since the 19th-century genius Georg Cantor revealed that one infinite collection can be bigger than another, that there are different kinds, and sizes, of infinity. But using my basic understanding of infinite, there is no wall out there, no point when things just stop. Similarly there is no point at which we reach the smallest element. These are mere imputations and confuse our ability to see beyond a limited viewpoint. Einstein said, “You cannot solve a problem from the same consciousness that created it. You must learn to see the world anew.”

We must accept there is untapped knowledge inaccessible through the current conventions of science and maths. The ultimate nature of reality cannot be seen through a telescope or registered on computer screens, and answers to our most compelling questions lie within.

Article Copyright© Stephen Treehorn - reproduced with permission.



 
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